Thursday, September 24, 2015

Will there be justice for Bill Thao?

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON, Wis. — It’s been nearly nine months since little Bill Thao was shot dead while he played with toys in the living room of a Milwaukee home.

The 13-month-old’s accused killer has yet to face justice. Why?

Because the Milwaukee Police Department still hasn’t been able to retrieve the video interviews it conducted with the suspect, sources tell Wisconsin Watchdog.

A final pretrial hearing in the reckless homicide case of Darmequaye D. Cohill, 21, is scheduled for 8:15 a.m. Oct. 1, with jury trial scheduled for Nov. 30.

But the case has been delayed many times since Cohill was charged in early January.

The hangup involves lost video recordings, untold interviews and suspect confessions wiped out in what was described as a “catastrophic failure” of the Milwaukee Police Department’s video-recording system in January.

“The court is also advised by the defense that 3 of the 4 recorded statements with MPD of the defendant are not available due to an equipment malfunction with MediaSolve (Sic),” court records noted on March 13. “Defense is moving to exclude those statements.”

A Wisconsin Watchdog review of records found a series of delays in the case.

MediaSolv is the Milwaukee Police Department’s contracted video-recording system that sustained a “catastrophic hard drive” crash Jan. 2. The police department confirmed as much after Wisconsin Watchdog first reported the malfunction May 11.

Multiple sources have told Wisconsin Watchdog hundreds, if not thousands, of recordings were lost in the crash, complicating and even compromising investigations and prosecutions.

“Matthew Bell is present and informs the court that MPD is making diligent efforts in working with MediaSolve (sic) to recover those statements as expeditiously as possible for the state and defense,” court records state.

The court postponed time and time again. While case documents don’t specifically reference the MediaSolv crash, an entry dated May 4 notes the state “has been unable to retrieve the information pertaining to the miranda-goodchild issue.”

A Miranda/Goodchild hearing is used to determine whether a defendant was properly advised of his Miranda rights and that his confession was given freely and voluntarily.

Cohill’s attorney, Craig S. Powell, has not returned multiple calls from Wisconsin Watchdog; neither has the district attorney’s office regarding the lost videotaped recordings.

On June 11, the case file reflects that the court has been “advised that there are on-going investigative matters and there is request for another final pretrial.”

On July 9, the court was “informed of outstanding evidenciary discovery issues …”

The final pre-trial was pushed back again.

Finally, on July 20, the court was informed by the prosecutor on the case the “discovery process is progressing.”

“There is a joint request for an adjournment (or postponement) of the jury trial. The defendant has additional charges pending so an adjournment would not prejudice the defendant or the state. The court will grant the adjournement (sic) request,” the court document states.

The case has been delayed so long that the presiding judge has completed his rotation in the criminal court and a new judge must be assigned.

Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn in late May told the city’s Public Safety Committee the malfunction had “only” impacted seven cases, downplaying the problem by comparing it to a broken printer in his office. “A thing broke,” Flynn said.

“It doesn’t mean the end of the free world, the collapse of the criminal justice system. It means a machine broke down and it can’t be used,” he said.

But the machine that can’t be used holds video- and audio-recorded suspected interrogations.

The district attorney’s office has yet to verify Flynn’s statement or specify what cases may be involved.

Even if there were only seven cases impacted by the — in Flynn’s parlance — “thing” breaking, the Thao homicide is a very big case.

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